generate teasers

These are the first three full chapters of generate–unedited and subject to change. If you have any comments, feel free to email me at megan@meganthomason.com or message me on the Facebook.com/daynight.series page!

PROLOGUE

Garden City, Thera

Not again. The blonde-haired girl woke to the sight of her crushed, dead body. How many second chances am I going to get?

“Look around at the carnage you caused. I’d say that you are well past second chances, wouldn’t you, Bailey?” A quick perusal of the landscape showed numerous dead bodies and the strewn about remnants of the Garden City mega-portal. What she failed to see was the dead body of her nemesis, Kira Donovan, and the small bodies of Kira’s offspring abominations. Maybe they’re under the rubble.

“Or…they’re quite alive and well and you failed…epically.”

Bailey turned to see an odd looking man. He was skeletal skinny, his white blond hair looked like it fell victim to a strong electrical charge, and he wore a bile-yellow colored suit. The poor sap needs a makeover. Then she looked down at her own attire and shrieked with disgust. She, too, was dressed in bile yellow, yet, instead of a nice suit, she wore a shapeless jumpsuit that had five times as much fabric in the middle as was needed, making her look like a deflated balloon.

The man stepped towards her, and she shrank back at the sight of his eyes, which were so dark that they looked black and soulless. A toothy smile showed decay. His skin appeared sickly and transparent. “Think of this as your redemptive phase. I’m Percival Killjoy, your direct supervisor for the work-with-no-release program. You can call me Perki.”

Work? No release?

Perki hopped up and down with fervor like a human pogo stick. “Yes! You can succeed at anything you are excited about. Repeat after me: I can be good! I will do good! All I need is proper motivation.”

Bailey rolled her eyes and crossed her arms across her chest, the rough fabric of her jumpsuit scraping against her arms and causing a frenzied itch. “I don’t think so.”

“One extra large heap of motivation coming right up!”

The surrounding rubble faded from view and a dark, windowed room faded in. A spread of food surpassing any luxury hotel buffet surrounded the room, just past the windows. Her stomach rumbled at the sight and a deep, gnawing hunger consumed her. She clawed at the window and searched for a door to reach the mouthwatering bounty, but her efforts proved fruitless. And Perki had disappeared.

After what seemed like hours, a light flashed and Perki returned, although he was not alone. At his side stood Brad Darcton, former Second Chance Institute dictator—and the man that Bailey shot dead right before she started tossing bombs at Kira, Madison, and a whole lot of babies. And Blake. No way he survived that. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing away the thought. She opened her eyes and confirmed that Brad was indeed in her presence. His glare was so intense that he might as well be shooting fiery serpents her way. She shifted her own eyes to the floor.

Oh, Gads no. Not him. This must be hell.

Perki grinned like an evil carnival clown. “Nope, not hell. You’re on Rathe. Like bathe but with an ‘r.’ Sorry to disappoint you, but you won’t find any fiery serpents here. Well, I mean, I guess I could try to conjure some up if you feel like you are missing out. But, I’m quite sure the two of you would much rather have FUN by REAPING YOUR REWARDS.”

That caught her attention. Rewards?

“What rewards? Like that food?” She salivated as she pointed towards a table full of pastries. “I’m starving. Can we discuss this whole thing over a solid meal?”

“On Rathe, anything beyond the bare necessities is earned. The process is simple. You get a partner. Yours is Brad.” Brad and Bailey groaned in unison at the prospect. Perki continued, “You each must sit through a Board of Review. The Board will detail every offense you committed in your lifetime…or, in your case Bailey, lifetimes. And then, the two of you will work together to right your wrongs. With supervision, of course. If you comply, you earn rewards, If you don’t, you’ll receive just punishments. Easy peasy. So much better than the fiery pits of hell, don’t you think? We are going to have a SPLENDID time together.”

Bailey muttered a series of colorful curses under her breath. Her stomach groaned, and her dehydrated throat felt scratchy.

“We can’t have you to weak to work. This should tide you over.” A mug of water and a block of food that resembled compacted sawdust appeared before Bailey. She grabbed the mug and downed it, despite the fact that it smelled like dirty socks had been soaked in it.

“What’s in this?” Bailey held up the food block.

“I wouldn’t ask.” Perki warned. “It will keep the hunger at bay. That’s all you need to know.”

Bailey stared at the block and swore she could see tiny bug skeletons. Too hungry to be picky, she took a bite. Dry, crumbly, and foul-tasting, she gagged. It took immense resolve to swallow. But, as promised, the hunger no longer consumed her, even if she did still crave the delicious looking treats beyond the window.

Brad spoke up in an agitated tone. “How can we possible right the wrongs we committed in a previous life? You’re telling us we aren’t even on the same planet any more. And why should I have to work with the girl who killed me? Shouldn’t she be making that up to me?”

Perki jabbed a finger into Brad’s side, and Brad shook as if he were being electrocuted. “You killed thousands on Earth and thousands more on Thera. You have earned every moment you have to spend in the company of your murderer and then some. Understand?” Perki’s assault stopped. Brad slumped to his knees and nodded his head in submissive fashion.

“As for the how, you’ll be given the access you need when you need it. Think of it as being on a different plane as those you’ve wronged. You can positively impact lives without being seen…like a guardian angel. It is HEART WARMING and INCREDIBLE. Are you with me, team?” Perki held out his fingers, looking ready to zap them for any sign of insubordination.

“Ready,” Bradley and Bailey both muttered.

Perki sprung up and down again, flailing his arms with passion. “You can do better than that. You will do better than that. I DEMAND excitement. Give it to me, folks.”

“READY,” the duo shouted. Their non-existent enthusiasm never reached their eyes.

“One more thing.” Perki smirked. “A very special overseer has been assigned to the two of you and will personally add to your punishments should you fail to complete each task in perfect and swift fashion. I mean, I can only do so much.” Perki jumped and spun with delight as he delivered his news. “He—your overseer—resides on Aether, land of the Genitors. Brad, I think that you have gotten to know a Genitor and are well aware of their special abilities? Give me a ‘Go Genitors,’ team! Pump your arms with it!”

Brad froze as he processed the news. He looked physically ill. Bailey had no idea who the Genitors were, but, based on Brad’s reaction, this couldn’t be a good thing. Brad had always been the bully, not the bullied.

Even after Bailey and Brad complied with Perki’s request to praise the Genitors, Perki criticized them for “weak arm pumping” and “lack of exuberance.”

“It’s time to UP your game, Bailey. We have tough standards and expect you to FLY HIGH, Brad.” Perki stopped bouncing and his face turned serious—deadly serious. “If you succeed, I succeed. If you don’t, I’ll make sure you suffer more than the combined sufferings of all your victims.”

The walls and windows of the room disappeared leaving them standing in a black, dusty field. Yet the tables of food were there. Bailey yelped with glee. She ran towards the pastries, but stopped cold when a crack opened up in the ground in front of the table and widened. A tendril of red fire snaked up from the crevice and arounds the legs of the tables, setting them ablaze. Despite the spreading fire, swarms of flies descended upon the food. In a matter of moments, all that remained was rotted sludge and more black dust.

Bailey’s hope disintegrated with the food. She retched up bile the color of her jumpsuit, collapsed, and sobbed for the first time since birth.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Kira

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

I could kiss him forever. My lips might fall off, but it would be worth it.

“Likewise, love.” Jax whispers in my ear before nibbling at my lobe and trailing a stream of kisses down my neck. “I want to show you something.”

“Later. I’m busy.”

He chuckles as he lifts me from the lambskin rug we’ve been on and pushes me against the wall. I wrap my legs around his waist and weave my hands into his hair. Looking me directly in the eyes, he says, “Too busy to accommodate a small request from your…hmmm… What am I to you?”

I don’t hesitate before responding. This is a question that I know the answer to. “You and the babies—you’re my everything. That’s what you are to me.” It’s the truth.

His golden-centered blue eyes fill with tears. An instant later, we’re on the back deck of the small cabin being blasted by frigid air. I keep my legs wrapped around him as he props me against the deck rail.

“Jax, it’s freezing. What are we doing out here? Take me back in.” I whine until I see the snow-capped treetops lit up by a clear, starry night. The view from our little cabin is breathtaking. Wow.

Be patient. Good things come to those who wait. 

“What? Like frostbite?” I joke. He wraps his arms around me and infuses warmth into me from head to toe. I relax into him and stare at his lips. Even though mine are swollen, I want more. More kissing, more everything. An image of Jax in nothing but a towel, fresh out of the shower, pops into my head.

“Stop trying to distract me, love. I have words that need to be spoken.”

I interrupt. “Now that I can read your thoughts, wouldn’t it be more efficient to just think what you need to say while our lips our otherwise engaged. I can multitask.”

He pulls back to keep my lips from colliding with his and laughs. “First of all, you can’t read all my thoughts. If you could, you’d stop interrupting. Second, I’ve waited a long time for this, and, so, you are going to hear me out.”

“Fine.” I pout.

“I realize that our relationship is only hours old—but know that my feelings are more than a decade old. You are it for me, Kira. I have never and will never want anyone else. But there are some things I do want.”

I raise an eyebrow. He’s piqued my curiosity. “Do tell. What do you want?” Is this where I find out you have some really creepy fetishes?

He cracks a smile that put his dimples on full display. Then he leans his forehead against mine. “Pay attention, love. It’s a long list.”

“Well, then, get on with it. I’d hate for you to use all your energy in being my personal outdoor space heater when you could be…” His lips brush across mine in another non-kiss to shush me. He trails his mouth across my cheek to my ear and presses his body against me which causes me to shiver with desire.

“I want to make you mine in every possible way. I want there to be no barriers between us…no secrets between us. I want to be able to share my every thought and desire with you and for you to do the same. I want us to be open and honest with each other and to work through any issues we may have. I want to build a home together, share a room, share a bed and create memories in our home, room, and bed that we will never forget. I want that home to be a sanctuary for us—and for Zander, Aiden, and Evvie. I want them to have siblings that we create the good, old-fashioned way. I want you and our family to come first, always. I want you to be happy—happy personally, happy with me, and happy with us. And I want you to know that I plan to cherish every single moment that I have with you. I plan to love every single part of you over and over and over again until you never doubt that I am completely yours for all of eternity.”

My pulse races, and my limbs have gotten gooey. Jax couldn’t be any more amazing if he tried. He gently pushes my chin out towards the view. “I wanted to show you the stars.” He points at them, and I blink several times to make sure that I’m seeing the display correctly. The stars appear to have rearranged in the night sky to say, “Marry me, love.” Then they seem to shift again to say, “Jax and Kira Forever.”

That last part was not my doing…and altogether too cheesy.

I whip my head back around to look at Jax, and he is down on one knee with a ring box open. “What I want, love, more than anything is to make our love for each other and commitment official. Will you be mine and allow me to be yours for always?”

“Yes, yes. I want you too—for always.” A ring with otherworldly-looking gems that appear to change colors is slipped on my finger. I don’t pay much attention to it. It could be straight out of a gumball machine, and I’d give no heed to it. The only thing that has my attention is Jax.

Jax pulls me down to him, and then we are suddenly back inside next to the crackling fire atop the lambskin rug. Things heat up quickly and not just from the change in temperature. I remove his shirt and begin to explore his skin with my mouth.

“Is that how babies are made? Because I don’t think you are doing it right.”

Might as well dump me in an icy lake.

I adjust my clothing and look to see the source of our interruption.

B is cozied up on the couch with a bucket of popcorn and a B-sized, rainbow-colored cone of cotton candy. Not surprisingly, he has managed to cover himself in a sugary web from hair-tips to his…flip-flops. Clearly, he didn’t dress for the cold weather.

“What are you doing here?” I ask him. “I realize that I haven’t had a chance to raise you yet, but there are some standard conventions you need to learn—like knocking.”

He takes a giant bite of the cotton candy and with a full mouth responds, “Jaxdaddyhadmemuckwiththestarsandnowyoubothneedtocomewithmebackhome.”

“And that would be another thing to put on the to-learn to-do list—don’t talk with your mouth full. I didn’t understand a single word of that.”

B rolls his eyes at me and chucks the cotton candy cone over his shoulder, the sticky lot of it disappearing into thin air. Then, he throws the popcorn up in the air and each piece drops into his mouth in an orderly fashion, filling his mouth to the brim. In my mind, he says, Jax-daddy. Had. Me. Muck. With. The. Stars. And. Now. You. Both. Need. To. Come. With. Me. Back. Home.

“What happened? Are the babies okay?” My mind goes haywire with all the bad things that could have happened. I shiver thinking of what almost happened to all the babies in Garden City.

Evvie, Aiden, and Zander are fine. I didn’t mean that home. I meant our real home—the home of the Genitors. You’ve both been summoned.

Jax’s face goes from flush to ghost-white. “For what purpose?”

B shrugs. Don’t ask me. Ask Grams and, Gramps. You need to see them first.

“Grams? Gramps? You mean my parents? My real parents?”

For someone so much older than me, you don’t know much yet. Yes, your real parents—my grandparents. You need to see them. Then you need to see Bash.

“Bash? Who’s that?” I ask.

The man in charge.

Dominus, Aether

I pace the waiting room of the Genitor’s Grand Hall where B abandoned us—in a city called Dominus on a planet called Aether. The home of the Genitors freaks me out, I’m not ashamed to admit. Every surface is made of a clear substance with an appearance of glass or crystal. It appears solid to the touch, yet is not quite. Somehow, it flows, changes, and morphs—almost like a lake with a thin coat of ice on top and teeming life underneath. I keep thinking it’ll suck me in or I’ll fall through, never to be seen again. The walls in the room have taken on a golden-sheen, but I see things inside the gold. Creepy.

“Come here, love. You need to calm down. I think the floor is getting angry at you.” Jax gives me a wide, dimple-filled grin. I look down and indeed, there appears to be a swirling storm beneath the surface.

“But…” I twirl my hair around my finger. “I’m about to meet my real parents for the first time. And we need to get their blessing to be able to get married or Cleaved or who knows what they call it here. What if they say no, Jax? What if there is some silly rule about Arbiters and Genitors mixing? Then what will we do?”

He stands and pulls me into an embrace. “Your parents will love you. How could they not? As for me…I always told you I wasn’t good enough for you. But, I’m confident it will all work out.”

I push up on to my toes and kiss him. He greedily responds, nibbling on my bottom lip and then deepening the kiss until I’m not sure where I end and he begins.

Someone behind us clears their throat and Jax and I separate, each turning the color of the floor—which is now a bright red, acting like some sort of ginormous mood ring.

“Sorry to interrupt.” I look over to see an older woman with bright-blonde hair standing next to a distinguished looking man with light-brown hair. My parents. I recognize them as the couple watching me that day on the playground. “We’ve been waiting a long time to meet you, Kira. We are Abraham and Maia Godfrey. Why don’t you and Jackson join us inside?”

We follow them down a long hallway. The floor isn’t covered, but has taken on the pattern of an elaborate Oriental carpet. They lead us into a conference room of sorts. The table is made of the same clear material, but thankfully the chairs have real cushions.

“May we hug you?” my mother asks. I nod and she comes and wraps her arms around me and I can physically feel the love she has for me. She’s about my same height—five foot six—and has my same light green and gold eyes.

My father hugs me next. He’s a little shorter than Jax—maybe six feet tall—and has the same kaleidoscope eyes as little Blake. I guess I know where B got them from. My father radiates the same love as my mother.

They both have tears in their eyes, and I can feel wetness on my own face.

“I’d like to formally introduce you to the love of my life—Jax Christo.” I grab Jax’s hand and intertwine his fingers with mine.

My father studies Jax intently. “We’re quite familiar with Jackson, Kira. In fact, we met long ago when we asked the Arbiters to…watch over you, as we were constrained from doing so. Jackson volunteered. We hesitated, based on his young age, but he would not be deterred. As I can see, he did his job well—perhaps too well.”

Images flash on every surface of the room—the table, walls, and floor. Each picture restores a buried memory of Jackson in my life. My cheeks warm as I think of the number of times I developed a crush on him.

My mother says, “Jackson was not supposed to get personally or romantically involved with you. That was never the intention.”

“Hazard of the trade?” Jax quips. “I think my young brain never fully absorbed that admonition.”

He grimaces at Jax. “It should have. Kira stands to lose her rightful inheritance if she pursues a marriage to you.”

I raise my voice in protest. “I could care less about any sort of inheritance. You think money is more important than love?”

“Not the point.” My father looks very serious. “Let’s get down to business. Kira, do you wish to formally request an exception from Genitor law to wed Jax?”

“Yes,” I exclaim. “More than anything. We already have a daughter together. And, Jax has been helping me raise my other two children. We love each other and want to spend our lives together.”

Both my parents maintain a stoic expression. My dad sits back in his chair and crosses his arms across his chest. “I need to say up front that while we will listen to your case, we do not have final say in this matter. Another holds the keys to your future.”

“B mentioned someone named Bash?”

My parents glance at each other and look nervous. “Yes. Sebastian Wright.”

“Can you tell us about him? Why does he get to decide?” I ask.

“Because he does.” My father grimaces and turns to Jax. “Jackson, are you pure?”

Please tell me that my father didn’t just ask Jax that. Why does he even have to ask when he can read our thoughts? Maybe I can make a deal with the floor and have it blend me in?

“Yes,” Jax responds without missing a beat.

“Kira?”

“Of course.”

“But you were Cleaved previously to Ethan Darcton? Why did you not take your commitment seriously?”

Jax and I both wince at the reminder. “It was an arranged, forced Cleaving by the SCI. My family members, friends, and unborn children were threatened if I did not comply. The Cleaving was never consummated. I honored it, despite the fact I was separated from my Cleave for a full year. The Arbiters dissolved it at my request after that time.”

“You say you honored your Cleaving, but allowed Jackson in your bed each day?”

I bite down on my lip. They make it sound so dirty. And it wasn’t. “Not in the way you are implying. Jax helped me get through my day terrors. We didn’t… We never…”

Graphic videos of some of my dreams appears on my screen, and I feel the blood rush to my cheeks and my mouth go dry. “You recorded my dreams? That is…not okay.”

“So you deny you were attracted to Jackson?” My father drums his fingers atop the carnage.

Jax has a sly grin on his face as he watches all my fantasies play out. “No. Of…of course not. But as far as I know…these did not even start until after my Cleaving was dissolved.” The videos shut off and are replaced with the video of my Cleaving to Ethan.

“Did you not tell Ethan that you loved him at your Cleaving?” my mother asks.

“Yes. I knew he wanted to hear it. And I did love him. Or I thought I did. I was young and honestly, it isn’t the first time I thought I was in love. But my view on love has changed this past year. Love entails a whole lot more than attraction and compatibility. That’s the easy part, the part that sucks you in. But real love makes you want to stay, pushes you to be better. It makes it worth it to keep trying, even when things hit rock bottom. To succeed, it takes communication, work, trust, patience, kindness, understanding, compromise and sacrifice. I didn’t have that kind of love with Ethan. Had we not had that year of separation it is possible we could have gotten there, but we were separated and never developed any of those qualities. What I can say is that I do have that kind of love with Jax.”

“Jackson, did you or did you not intentionally try to undermine your brother and his Cleaving, in an effort to win Kira for yourself? Did you or did you not intentionally disregard our strong admonition to keep from getting personally involved with our daughter?”

The interrogation continues in this manner for what seems like hours. It feels like Judgment Day. My parents analyze and question every decision Jax and I made. By the end I feel dirty—both Jax and I are tainted by our bad decisions, seeming deceit, and lustful desires. I cling to Jax like a lifeline and he to me.

“Wait here. You’ll be escorted over to meet with Sebastian now. He will pass final judgment.”

I’m so weak, so depleted, that Jax must carry me out. He holds me in his arms as we wait, whispering, “I will love you forever, Kira. Our mistakes do not define us, but make us stronger. Have faith in that…in us.”

I’m sweating buckets, and my nerves are going haywire. We’ve been dumped in front of a ginormous door that is flashing the message, “Wait here until further notice.”

“It’ll be fine, love. Things have a way of working themselves out. You just need to be patient,” Jax whispers into my ear.

Unless it isn’t fine. What if this Sebastian Wright guy says, “No?” Then what? We are one rubber stamp away from being able to wed. And the guy with the rubber stamp just happens to be head of the Genitors. I know nothing about him other than the fact he is, like me, a Genitor, and his name is Sebastian Wright. That’s not much to go on. Genitors can be scary. I think back to all the things I saw B do. If a child can do that, what can a full grown Genitor do?

“You’re a full grown Genitor, and I don’t think you are scary in the least. It’ll be fine. It certainly can’t hurt to ask.” His expression looks dark but confident.

“How can you be so calm? Our entire future is at stake here.”

He presses a hand to my face, and I’m flooded with a peaceful feeling. “Because I’m awesome. That’s what the ‘a’ in Jax stands for after all.”

My lips curl into a smile. “This is why I need to persuade this Sebastian person to let me marry you. You keep my insanity away. That’s what the ‘i’ in Kira stands for after all.”

With a huge smirk, he says, “At least you can admit it. That’s always the first step.” He leans forward, and sucks my bottom lip between his teeth. I snake my left hand into his hair and pull him towards me with my right hand. Our kiss deepens, and my mind runs rampant with the dream scenes my parents displayed for Jax. I can tell he’s thinking the same thing as he lifts me and presses me against the door.

That makes it all the more awkward when the door opens, and I go tumbling backwards with Jax atop me, the air whooshing from my lungs. Ouch.

Jax, who had a softer landing, jumps up, grabs my hand, and pulls me to a standing position. He keeps a tight grip around my waist to keep me upright. Wise, given I want to faint of embarrassment.

I take in the scene in front of me. We’re in a laboratory of some sort. The crystal walls have morphed into pictures of reference materials, animals, and insects. One creature displayed prominently looks like a cross between a koala bear and a bee. B is here and spinning side-to-side on a stool, paintbrush in hand, while blowing giant bubbles with his gum. And a guy—who I presume to be Sebastian Wright—is peering into some sort of microscope-looking device. His overgrown chocolate-colored hair is plastered to his head on one side and sticking straight up on the other side, and his gray shirt and black slacks are rumpled like a used tissue. This is the guy in charge?

B’s voice resonates in my mind. You might not want to question his authority.

The guy turns to us, gives us a brash once-over, glares at Jax and then bellows, “No,” before returning to his project.

“No?” It comes out as a whisper. I clear my throat. “Excuse me. Mr. Wright, is it? What is a ‘no’?”

You and the Arbiter. It’s a no. He needs to leave. 

Tears prick my eyes, and a traitorous one escapes, burning a path to my mouth and leaving me with its salty flavor. Why?

Sebastian spins around and struts towards us. He looks to be not much older than Jax and his eyes are the color of dark rain clouds. He narrows them at Jax. “Why are you here?” he asks Jax. “You Arbiters are so needy. Honestly, I already sent the kid to help you out. What more do you want?”

Jax grips me even tighter. “This isn’t a diplomatic visit. Blake—“ he gestures to B, who has dipped his paintbrush into a vat of red and is giving the koala-bee a pair of plump lips, “—brought us here. He said that you wanted to see us, that you needed to approve our marriage.” I can’t believe that we’re expected to get permission. It’s particularly ironic given that B is here, since he is a byproduct of my union with Jax. Isn’t B’s existence proof enough that our marriage is meant to be, and that despite the fact that Jax is an Arbiter, that we are able to produce Genitor seed?

Sebastian ignores Jax and throws up his hands as he walks over to B. “No, no, no, no, no. What are you doing, child? That’s the final prototype that you are messing with. You know how important this is. Now it looks ridiculous!” I have to agree. I’m not sure quite what I’d do if I ever encountered a candy-red-lipped koala-bee in the wild.

B rolls his eyes. “You mean it looks amazing. And striking. And unique. It will attract the interest of the right kind of people if you know what I’m saying. So, what you meant to say is that I am the most amazing assistant in the universe.”

Sebastian grunts at B before looking my way. “He is ruining my creations. He is always ruining my creations. The two of you have birthed a menace…”

“Not yet,” I murmur under my breath.

Sebastian steps forward and pulls my chin upward, making me look him in the eye. “Exactly. Which is why you should be stopped. Now leave me be. I’ve got much more important things to attend to than listening to you beg to procreate with an Arbiter. I realize that you haven’t been schooled in our ways, but Genitors and Arbiters don’t operate in the same sphere. It’s impractical and unthinkable on every level. You are intended to reside here on Aether and wed one of you own kind.”

Just who the hell does he think he is?

I’m pissed. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m livid. I want to hurt this guy. I don’t care who he is or whether or not he’s in charge. He has more important things to do? The idiot is working on creating a bug for Gads sake. I was raised on Earth amongst normal people, tortured on Thera by the Daynighters, and now I’m here on Aether with the Genitors, and this pompous prick expects me to drop everything, move here, and marry someone just because they have random genetic markers that I couldn’t give a crap about?

Jax squeezes my arm tightly, likely to remind me that this guy can hear my thoughts.

I purse my lips and put my hands on my hips. “Mr. Wright—“

A hint of amusement twinkles in his eyes. “It’s Sebastian. Call me Bash.”

My face contorts into one of disgust and anger—pursed lips, furrowed brows, scrunched nose, wide eyes. I can’t help but to raise my voice. “Well…Bash. Clearly, you haven’t had an ounce of sense bashed into your thick skull. You think you are so high and mighty and important hiding away here in your lab with your crowning achievement being some fuzzball bee with monster-sized red lips? Well, let me educate you on a few things. There are people—thousands and thousands of people suffering at the hands of the Second Chance Institute both on Earth and on Thera. That number will soon be millions since a Daynighter quack-job has just been elected President of the United States. So, I think I’m going to have to decline your invitation to move to your bubble where everyone ignores these atrocities. And I’m done having people tell me who I should marry. I want to marry Jax—only Jax. I don’t care if you approve of my personal decision made with my own free will and choice or not. I am an adult and can make my own decisions without your input, thank you very much.”

Bash rubs his chin as if thinking how to respond. I have more to say, but I’m frozen in place, angry expression and all.

“Yes. YES. That is the exact expression I’ve been wanting to capture for the new cave dweller I’ve got slated to be released on Earth,” he mutters excitedly.

I’m not one who often swears, but my brain is buzzing with foul slang to describe Mr. Sebastian Wright.

He ignores my mental tirade and, in the air in front of me, overlaps a 3D image of my expression onto a 3D picture of something that looks like a cross between scary circus clown and bat.

I try to use my newfound Genitor abilities to stop the madness. RELEASE ME.

Nothing.

STOP THIS.

Nada.

TURN BASH INTO A RODENT.

Doesn’t work.

IRON HIS CLOTHES.

They still look like a two-year old did the laundry.

CASTRATE HIM.

Bash gives me a snarl in response to that one. Maybe that worked?

In your dreams.

Mental eye roll, you know, since I can’t do a real one.

B strolls over to take a look at Bash’s creation, circling the image all the while blowing bubbles. “Give it my mom’s hair color. The caves in that area of the world have a reddish tint to them. We want them to survive long enough to be found.”

The Exilers and SCI are at war on Thera. The Exilers just took hold of Garden City. Henry King will likely subject all Americans to do a blood test to determine their “worthiness” to his cause. But, hey, the bat’s hair color should totally take precedent.

They ignore me.

For someone so interested in hair design, you surely don’t spend a lot of time on your own.

Still no reaction.

Jax speaks in my mind. I think that he might be more willing to agree to our marriage if you are nice. 

It would be nice to be able to swat Jax’s arm right now, but that’s not possible in our current state.

Just sayin’.

Fine.

To Bash, I think, Dear all-powerful-sir, might you take pity on your lowly servants and release us from this horrible spell? We’d be ever so grateful.

A crooked grin appears on Bash’s face and, moments later, I am relieved of statue duty. Jax, on the other hand, has been surrounded by swirling crystal glass. If Jax’s look could kill, Bash would no longer be an obstacle to our marriage.

What the hell?

“Think of it as a soundproof booth. One where he is not able to hear or communicate telepathically. Now, Ms. Donovan, it’s clear to me that you have not yet embraced your Genitor heritage if you believe for one instant that what we are doing is not important. You are not seeing the big picture. I can help with that. You’ll work for me here—day shift Theran time—and get to know me and the work we do.”

I interrupt. “Those are sleeping hours, and I have three children to attend to.”

“You have the Arbiter boy and the Arbiter nurses to help with the babies. And, besides, Genitors don’t need sleep.”

This Genitor does. I love sleep. I live for sleep. Clearly, Bash has never had triplets or day terrors. If he had, he’d be all over the sleep thing too.

“It’s not negotiable, Ms. Donovan. The fact is that I alone have a say over whether you wed the Arbiter, and I am not inclined to allow it to happen for many reasons. If you want any hope of changing my mind, you will come work with me here.”

I fold my arms across my chest. “I don’t know how you expect me to help you. I’m no scientist.”

He snickers. “I’m not a scientist. I’m a Creator. And, there are all kinds of ways you can help. You can model for me like you did here today. You can go fetch information for me from my brothers who manage the Watchers and the Stewards. I’m immensely creative and will have no problem finding work for you to do.”

Creators? Watchers? Stewards? I thought he was a Genitor. And the guy has brothers? Gads help me if they are anything like he is.

“I am a Genitor. My job, as a Genitor, is that of a Creator. My brother, Lucas, runs the Watchers, and Cue handles the Stewards. You’d know this if you knew anything at all. Now, what’s it going to be? Work for me and fight for your right to marry your inferior or defy me and gain an intimate knowledge about Genitor consequences?”

I look over at Jax who is shooting Bash death glares through his glass prison and then back at Bash. Oh, I plan to fight all right—and not just for Jax.

CHAPTER TWO

Ethan

Los Angeles, California

I dare you to follow me. 

My smile is wide. I imagine the faces of my father and Olivia, the Arbiter assigned to shadow me, as they watched me jump off that cliff. The rush of the fall has me amped, and I refuse to allow anything to squash my adrenaline high. Not the SCI. Not the Arbiters. Not Alexa and Joshua. Not even Kira and Jax. I’m done letting everyone dictate my life for me. I declare myself a free agent. The only agenda I’ll be following is the one I set for myself.

A grimy alley in a bad Los Angeles neighborhood seems like the perfect choice to lead the Arbiters on a wild Ethan chase. I don’t know how, but I’m certain the girl will follow. Her words keep echoing through my head. “I can think of something I like less than disobedience. And that would be babysitting some half-blood who has gone off the deep end over a girl. I plan to eliminate every sappy emo bone from your pathetic body.” Olivia the Arbiter is my new nemesis, and I plan to return every bit of pain she directs my way, starting with a tour of the ghettos of LA. People with prejudices of any kind piss me off.

The Clean Slate Complex is less than a mile from here. I passed this area on CSC business often so I know it well. It’s one of those places where the crime reports would be higher than reported if the cops weren’t too chicken to enter. I check my watch. Nine pm. I’m in an alleyway between a pawn shop and gang-affiliated car shop, both which have closed up shop already. Across the street, however, there are two booming businesses, a strip club and a hole-in-the-wall pub known more for meth distribution than for microbrews.

A prostitute and her pimp are too embroiled in a heated discussion over money to notice me as I slip by and head towards the strip club parking lot, the only area not ensconced in shadows. I keep my pace brisk, eyes peeled for danger. My intention is to scare off Olivia, not have an unpleasant interaction with the locals.

As I reach the edge of the parking lot, two people even more out of place walk towards me—a small boy and who I assume to be his mother. The sight of them is so alarming that I stumble and halt. One of the strippers bringing her son to work? She doesn’t look the part dressed in a simple, modest white frock. With the overhead street lamp illuminating her, she looks angelic. If she was truly angelic, though, she wouldn’t be in this part of town. Her dark hair falls in loose curls midway down her back, and her eyes appear to be a bright turquoise. She gives me a quizzical look that likely matches my own. I can’t keep the words from stumbling out of my mouth.

“You shouldn’t be here. It’s not safe.”

She raises her eyebrows in response and dismisses me. “You should follow your own advice. I can handle myself.”

I glance around at the dozens of unsavory characters lurking in the parking lot, shake my head, and narrow my eyes. “You can protect yourself and your son from them?”

The boy clutches her hand tightly. He looks as out of place as his mother in his polo shirt and plaid shorts. He looks so much like her. My stomach cramps thinking of Zander. It has been too long since I’ve seen my own son.

“I’m scared,” the boy says, looking up at his mother and tugging at her hand. I realize that the boy may be scared of me, back up a step, and put my hands up in the air.

“Hey, I’m just trying to help. I’ve got a son, and this is the last place I’d bring him.”

She squeezes the boy’s hand and says, “Shilah, he won’t hurt us.” To me, she gives a tight lipped smile. “We’ll be fine. We have lots of…friends…in these parts.” A loud whistle sounds, and we both turn to look at its source. “We’ve got to go.”

“To him?” Is she insane?

“Stay out of it,” she demands. She turns to leave, dragging Shilah behind her. I can’t keep the incredulous look off my face. Alyssa and Shilah are on a collision course with a guy who inhabits every father’s worst nightmare: shorn hair, heavily tattooed and pierced, biker vest, and appears to be packing. The guy shoots me a challenging look as he ushers Alyssa and Shilah towards the dark alley behind the club. I can hear the menacing tone in his voice but can’t hear the exact words he speaks to her.

Do I follow the girl and risk Olivia catching up with me? I can sense that Olivia is close, and, although I had no intention of letting her find me without a chase, I need to adjust my plans. Seeing the fear on that little boy’s face has the parent in me wanting to protect him. If it were Kira and Zander, I wouldn’t hesitate. I shake my head, trying to rid the thought of Kira. Now’s not the time to wallow.

I cross the parking lot and head towards the alley and then crouch behind a dumpster next to a passed out homeless guy. Alyssa and Shilah are cornered against a wall by the tattooed man. Instead of scared, Alyssa looks angry. “We paid you, Spitz. Deliver the information, or I’ll send Joshua to fetch it from you. He won’t be near as nice as I am,” she says as she attempts to push him back. My mind jumps to my cousin, Joshua, and his many nefarious activities of late including setting a bomb off in a room full of SCI leaders and marring the reputation of the new President of the United States, our Uncle Henry. It’s doubtful Alyssa is referring to the same Joshua given that he’s on the run, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Joshua aligned with a rough crowd in his self-appointed war against the SCI.

Spitz shifts his hand from caging in his two captives to his gun and snarls. “You think I’m afraid of Joshua?”

“Perhaps, then, I need to get my father involved. I know for a fact that you are afraid of him.”

He gets in her face. “I’m happy to call your bluff, little girl. I doubt you or Joshua want your daddy interfering in your business. This isn’t run-of-the-mill intel that Joshua’s after. In fact, for the hassle this job’s causing me, I think he’s gonna have to pay a little extra.”

She puts up a warning finger. “Not going to happen, and you know it. He already paid a premium. You have twenty-four hours to get it done, Spitz.”

“I think you’re getting a bit too cozy in these parts, Alyssa. You forget to be afraid.” He grabs her into a chokehold and points the gun at Shilah.

The boy looks terrified, and I don’t hesitate. I jump to my feet with every intention of running to tackle Spitz but, instead, the homeless guy grabs me from behind and pins my arms behind me.

“Let me guess.” I twist my head back to look at him. “You’re not homeless or drunk.” It hadn’t occurred to me to consider him a threat. I see a guy dressed in filthy clothes with an empty fifth in his hand, eyes closed and tucked into his cardboard bed for the night, and I make an assumption. Now that I’m paying attention, even in the dim light, I can see through the disguise and would bet the guy has military training.

“Well, well, well…” Spitz says in my ear. I snap my head back. We are nose-to-nose. My heart slams against my ribcage, heating so hard that it might break free. “You figured you’d play hero tonight? For them?” He points at Alyssa and Shilah and laughs. They’re a few feet to the right of Spitz, watching the scene unfold, eyes darting between me, Spitz, and the guy holding me. Olivia has also shown up and is twenty feet out to Spitz’s left and closing in. He sees me look Olivia’s way and points his gun in her direction, squeezing the trigger. “Well, you better hope Alyssa is willing to play your hero tonight, else you’re standing in your own grave.”

I hear a scream at the same time I register searing pain in my chest and look down to see a knife sticking out of my heart.

I feel like I’m in quicksand, being sucked down,

and down,

and down.

I’m choking.

I’m blind.

I’m lifeless.

I’m heavy; my limbs weighing,

and flailing,

and failing.

My ears are ringing,

my skin’s burning

and stinging.

I’m dying…

“Wake up. And for Gads sake, stop with the melodrama. It’s hurting my head, you pathetic little inferior being.” A harsh slap against the right side of my face accompanies the grating voice. “Or maybe you’re a three quarter blood now since I gave you a chunk of mine. You can make it up to me later.”

I try to respond, to tell her to get out, but, instead, I choke on the tube running down my throat. My eyes are fuzzy but not fuzzy enough to obliterate the clashing color rainbow of Olivia’s hair.

“Yeah, that’s right, you are at my mercy. Can’t move, can’t talk. You can only listen. And listen you will. If you ever pull another stunt like the cliff dive or the saunter through Earthly hell again, I’ll make you suffer more than you’ve done to yourself. Do you really want to invoke the anger of the Arbiters? Your father tells me that you’re an intelligent bloke, but you seem intent on proving him wrong. Man up, and do what you are told…by me. Blink once if you understand.”

Didn’t Kira tell me great things were in store? Liar. Where’s the greatness? Certainly not here. To infuriate Olivia, I blink twice, a task that saps any remaining energy that I have left, and I drift back off to sleep.

When I emerge again, my eyes are a little clearer. A guy with blond curls and a white coat is sitting at my side. My doctor, presumably.

He leans over, his green eyes glimmering, and whispers into my ear in a convincing British accent. “A knife to the heart, and you’re to blame. You give Ethan a bad name. I play my part, and you lose your game. You give our family a bad name.”

This time, when I form words, there is no barrier. The breathing tube has been removed. My tone’s raspy, but I get my point across. “Joshua…it hasn’t been long enough. You look like you dropped a decade and thirty pounds since the last time I saw you.”

He lets out a hearty laugh. “So, you’re saying that you didn’t miss me? I’m hurt.” He pretends to take a knife to his heart. Funny. “What the hell were you doing in that neighborhood, cousin? Looking to get stabbed? You’re lucky that Alyssa was there, took pity, and dragged you to the hospital. She got you here just in time too. It was an ugly surgery, but they managed to patch your heart back up like…well…like a heart that’s had a bunch of surgeries on it.”

I ignore his dig at my heart and the irony that this was the only legitimate heart surgery that I’ve endured. “You know that girl and her son?”

With a chuckle, he says,”Shilah’s not her son. He’s her little brother. And, yes, she’s a vital part of my cause. We grew up together. Speaking of strange girls, who’s the leech who donated her blood to you? She never leaves unless she needs to refill her coffee. She’s a real piece of work. She told the hospital that she’s your sister. But we both know that’s not true. I swear…if you picked her for your rebound fling…”

I cough so hard that I vomit into my mouth. Swallowing the bitter taste back down, I respond. “Gads no. The Arbiters put a tail on the remaining members of the Ten…to make sure they stay in line. I was in the process of ditching her when I happened upon Alyssa and Shilah. It seemed like they were in trouble…”

He rubs his chin and appears deep in thought. “Maybe you should win this Arbiter over. We could use one on our side since Jax is playing Switzerland.”

“She is not on our side. Trust me. She wants to make my life a living hell.”

“Well, then, it looks like I’m your only hope. It’s a good thing that I’m here to transfer you to a private facility. Better get you out of here before your tail comes back from her coffee break.” He winks at me, jumps up, and starts to roll my cot out the door and down the hall. At least a half dozen nurses fawn over him along the way, and he flirts with every one of them. Not one questions why he is removing a patient. I can see why he went with the heartbreaker doctor disguise instead of the aging professor.

The real question is whether I’ll be better off with Joshua than I would be under Olivia’s watch. When he shoves a needle into my neck before loading me into the ambulance, I think that Olivia may have been the better bet.

“Drugs finally wearing off, Ethan? Good news or bad news first? Since you’re still a bit woozy, I’ll go with the bad. It looks like my son is collecting more prisoners. As for the good, we get pancakes and sausage for breakfast every Tuesday.” My eyes snap open and dart around to find the familiar owner of the voice. I get distracted when I see my own circumstances.

You have got to be kidding me. I’m going to kill Joshua.

I’m strapped to a hospital bed, hooked up to machines, in a prison cell—the kind with bars. A guard stands outside my cell, facing away. I look at the next cell over and see that my uncle Victor and aunt Violet are sitting at a small table, eating their meal. Despite their imprisonment, both are clad in their Clean Slate Complex black suits with CSC-logoed embellishments, and Victoria’s lips, as always, are stained red. Given Victor and Violet’s matching evil glares, you’d think that I was responsible for their current circumstances instead of their own son.

Portaling out of here is not an option unless I want to alert Victor and Violet of my half-Arbiter heritage. So, I better get as cozy as one can get while strapped to a hospital bed and see what I can learn from Victor.

“Prisoners? I guess that would explain the jail cell decor. You have it better than me, though. At least you are ‘free to move about the jail cell.’ I’m…not.” I struggle against my restraints and visually search for any way to unlatch the wide bands attaching me to my bed at my chest, waist, and two at my legs. My hands, however, are free. Unfortunately, the clasps must be secured under the bed. I am, indeed, stuck.

Victor wipes his mouth with his napkin before pushing away from the table and coming to stand at the cell bars. My bed is within spitting distance of him. He explains, “Joshua and Alexa took us hostage on election night—right after they set off the bomb. My son has declared war against his family and the SCI.”

Given that I’m still shocked that Joshua and Alexa did this, I have no problem acting like it.

Victor wipes his mouth with a napkin, stands, and peers down at me through the bars. “Why do you seem so surprised? Did you really think that Violet and I would betray the SCI? Kill our friends and colleagues? To what end? Surely, you had to have doubts, no matter what compelling seeds my son planted.”

“My dad and I scoured the world looking for answers. Everyone had their theories as to who was responsible. Joshua was definitely a possibility, but we couldn’t prove it.”

A key rattles in the door to my cell, and Joshua steps through. He has ditched the doctor disguise and is back to the Joshua I know and loathe. His chestnut brown hair has been buzzed, but his eyes are his natural clear blue color and shimmering with a look that screams, “When will you stop underestimating me?”

He winks at me, and then turns to Victor. “Now, now, Daddy Dearest, you know that you aren’t my prisoner but my esteemed guest, as is Ethan. I’m keeping you safe from the many parties who hold you responsible and want you to pay for the terrorist attack. You and Mom couldn’t handle real prison. And, as a side benefit, I’m preventing many a poor soul’s journey to Thera. After the truth was revealed at Henry’s inauguration, the SCI was forced to shut down operations at your incinerator. They just couldn’t figure out a way to spin ongoing mass executions to their political benefit.”

I speak up. “And what did I do to deserve being strapped to a hospital bed and held behind bars?”

Joshua continues to stare down his father while he answers my question. “Other than being generally annoying my entire life, I’d have to say telling the FBI that I was likely responsible for the attacks earned you a stint here. Even if it is the truth. Besides, I saved you from an extended hospital stay at the lowest ranking establishment in the city.” What the hell? I wasted two months of my life trying to prove them innocent. I’m tempted to correct him, but I won’t do so in front of Victor and Violet. Kira blamed Joshua and Alexa. Not me.

More keys rattle, and Alyssa enters my cell. Her dark hair is piled on her head in a messy knot, and she’s wearing scrubs with cupcakes on them. She trains her turquoise eyes on Joshua. “Leave him alone, JB. He’s been through a trauma. Now, scoot. I need to check his vitals.” To me, she says, “I supposed that I should formally introduce myself. I’m Alyssa Pierce.”

“You’re a nurse?” I ask with a flippant tone. “And to think that I thought you worked at the strip club and moonlighted brokering information in the back alley.”

Joshua howls with laughter. “A stripper? I’m pretty sure that the only time Alyssa has flashed her goods willingly was when we were eight and playing doctor. Not that I didn’t try to get her to a thousand times after that—especially after her goods got so much more…appealing.” Interesting. My cousin, Joshua, either has a thing for Alyssa or he wants to embarrass her. Either way, she’s mortified. Her cheeks turn bright pink.

Alyssa slaps him on the arm, and then shakes her head. “You are just lucky my dad didn’t walk in us playing doctor. He would have used you as the first test subject for that giant oven he created for your dad. I don’t think that ‘doctors’ usually strip down for their female patients.” If Alyssa’s dad outfitted the warehouse with the mechanism to “reallocate” Clean Slate Complex tenants to Thera, he must be a real gem.

“I was simply giving an anatomy lesson to my favorite girl. I’ve always been a stellar student. How could I not share my vast knowledge with others?” Joshua kisses her on the cheek, and Alyssa returns the affection by running her hand down Joshua’s scruffy cheek. I wonder if Alexa knows about Joshua’s childhood girl “buddy” and vice versa.

Victor intercedes. “When I get out of here, I may just have to tell my good pal, Damien, that story. I’m sure he would be interested to know that my son was trying to defile his daughter. You know how he loves all of Alyssa’s suitors…to death.” Note to self: avoid Alyssa and her father.

Joshua glares at Victor and quips, “If you get out of here. Besides, I wonder whose back Damien would have in this matter. I wouldn’t be so sure that it’s you. He may be SCI, but his personal interests always supersede party interests.” Then he waves to me. “Later, Ethan. Be a good patient for Alyssa…or else I’ll have to set back your recovery a bit.”

Alyssa gently shoves Joshua out the cell door and turns to me. “Sorry about him…and the whole incident in the alley. I’m not a nurse, but I have EMT training and will do my best. Joshua waited until you were on the mend until he pulled you out of the hospital, so I don’t anticipate any issues.”

“Well, that puts my mind at ease…” I say in a sarcastic tone, “…particularly given that, ‘pulling’ me out of the hospital involved posing as my doctor and sticking a needle in my neck. Joshua wouldn’t ever put my life as risk given he is my biggest fan and all.”

She rips off the dressing covering my wound with more vigor than necessary. Ouch. “He did what he had to do…something that he could have avoided if you hadn’t stuck your nose into my business. You are his family, however, and Joshua takes care of his family.”

I sneer while Victor shakes the bars between our cells and says, “He takes care of family all right. Gets them right on out of the picture. Frames them. Imprisons them. Discredits them.”

Alyssa ignores us both and proceeds to clean my wound, apply new dressing, and tape me up.

“So…” I ask, “…I’m curious. What’s the deal with your father? Why does everyone throw his name around like a threat?”

She narrows her turquoise eyes at me. “My father is Damien Pierce. He’s an…influential…businessman in the city. You may have heard of him.”

My eyes nearly bug out of my skull. “That does explain everything.” Damian Pierce owns many, if not most, of the seedy businesses in Los Angeles—and likely half the cops and prosecutors in town. The accusations of drug dealing to human trafficking to pornography fly, but nothing ever sticks. I shudder to think that he’s SCI and “friends” with people in high SCI places.

“Usually does.” She looks angry, as if she can see all the judgments forming in my mind.

Chuckling, I throw up my hands. “No need to be cross. I don’t think either of our families will be up for humanitarian awards.”

She dips her chin. “True. My dad and his associates may terrorize LA, but you and your family seek to terrorize the world. I think I prefer my family.”

Wow. This girl has quite the chip on her shoulder. “Nice. I see that Joshua’s been singing praises about me—probably quite literally. Don’t be shy about giving me your opinion. I’m glad that you didn’t automatically assume I’m exactly like the rest of my family since generalizations are so cliché.”

“Said from the guy who assumed I was a stripper. And let’s not forget that you thought Shilah was my son even though I would’ve had to have gotten knocked up at the age of twelve to be his mom. You probably also thought I was in that alley buying drugs and maybe even prostituting out myself or my kid to get those drugs. Did I miss any generalizations or clichés there, Ethan?”

My words ooze sarcasm. “At least one or two… I do like to be thorough.” Then I roll my eyes. “In actuality, things happened so fast that night that I didn’t have time to think. I just acted. I thought you guys were in trouble and wanted to make sure that you didn’t get hurt.”

“How ironic that you wanted to play hero to me, and I ended up having to play hero to you.”

A smile spreads across my face. “I’d bow down at your feet and properly worship you, but my current circumstances prevent me from doing so. Will you ever forgive me, my savior?”

Her eyes dance with laughter, even if her mouth resists joining in. “I can see why you and Joshua have always butted heads. You guys are so much alike. Do you sing?”

“No and please put me out of my misery if I ever start.”

This time she does laugh. “Joshua has a fantastic voice. What’s your issue?”

“His impromptu lyrics… Whoever thinks music brings joy to the soul has not heard one of his jingles. He can pack more insults into a simple rhyme than anyone I know.”

She shakes her head. “I’ve never gotten the insults. But, Joshua sure teased me a lot—especially when I went through my awkward phase at twelve. I had braces which was bad enough—but then my dad took me to a barber to get my haircut. The guy used the longest setting on his sheers. A bowl cut would’ve looked better. It took me over a year to grow it out. I still have some of Joshua’s jingles about my ‘hair of a bear’ stuck in my head.”

“Your mom let your dad take you to a barber?”

Her expression turns sad. “My mom was in the country illegally when my dad met her. She was from Brazil. He says that she was a real beauty and turned a lot of heads. Things happened after she had me… Anyway, she ended up getting deported. It has just been my dad and me ever since.” I’m sure the details are ugly, but she has no reason to share them with me. I’m a stranger.

Her phone buzzes. She ignores it.

I want to ask more questions—about her dad’s relationship with Victor and hers with Joshua. But her phone buzzes again. It’s clear that whoever is trying to reach her won’t stop until she answers. “What?” She snaps.

The person on the other end of the line is loud and agitated. It sounds like Joshua, but I can’t be sure. She listens intently and hangs up without speaking another word. She looks alarmed. After sucking in a deep breath, she says, “I have to go.”

“Okay,” though I am anything but. I have a bad feeling that something is going down—whether it’s a gut feel or Arbiter ability, I don’t know.

Alyssa fusses with my bandage for a moment, and then leans in to me. “I will…see you later. In the meantime, you need to rest and allow your body to heal. The pain killer I administered through your IV should make you comfortable enough to sleep.”

“Like I have a choice. I’m in a jail cell and tied to my bed.” And unable to protect myself if something happens.

She leaves through the cell door and whispers something to the guard outside. He says, “No. This is my job. I’ll stay and keep watch over them.” His voice sounds familiar, but I can’t get a good enough look at him to figure out where I know him from.

I listen to the sound of her footsteps as she scurries down the hall. A door opens and then shuts. Her footsteps continue up a set of stairs. And then, silence. Even the machine monitoring my heartbeat has been muted. Victor and Violet have each retired to matching lounge chairs to read. I close my eyes and allow myself to wallow for a moment. In a very short period of time, I managed to lose Kira, abandon my son, be stalked by an Arbiter who wants to destroy me, get stabbed trying to help a girl who didn’t want my help, and be kidnapped and imprisoned by my cousin. What else could possibly go wrong? Haven’t I hit rock bottom yet?

Voices, footsteps, and radio sounds waft through the air.

“Clear.”

“Clear.”

“Clear.”

The volume increases as they approach. Who are they? I attempt to loosen my binds again without success.

“This way.”

“Down here.”

The staircase rumbles, sounding like a stampeding herd of cattle. I watch the door at the end of the hall open, and a SWAT team enters. They rush down the corridor, guns loaded and ready, and surround us.

“Found them,” a man voices into his radio.

A single set of footsteps rattles the stairs. As soon as he enters the dungeon, I recognize his profile. Indeed, my day can get worse.

“Where is that sister of mine? Violet! Victor!” He stops to peer into my cell. “Ethan? The calvary has arrived.”

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  1. Puja

    So excited to see this! Any idea when the full book will be out? This series is one of my favorites!

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